Is it possible to Brew Beer Without Hops?

The incorporation of hops is relatively new in the history of beer. Beer in ancient times is not as we know it today. The origin of beer dates back to 7000 BC and the incorporation of hops dates back to the 16th century.

In those years (1516), at the time when the German purity law was being implemented, hops prevailed over other ingredients that were used until then to give bitterness, flavor, and aroma to beer, which was called GRUIT.

Hops were simpler to use, reported more pleasant flavors and aromas, and helped the beer last longer, and all of this tipped the balance in their favor.

In this article, I will be covering if you can really make beer without hops, how it tastes, why hops are usually added, if they have some health benefits, and more!

So, without any further ado, let’s get started!

Can beer be made without hops?

Beer can be made either with or without hops. In fact, hops were only incorporated into beer production in the 16th century, while before that, a range of herbs and spices were used to give it flavor, aroma, and bitterness, such as sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, and others.

Since the 1990s, the production of beers without added hops has been making a strong comeback, since it seems like people were seeking to broaden their sensory experience and to be taken back to medieval times.

What is a hop-free or hopless beer called?

Beers brewed without hops are called GRUIT BEERS and use special herbs to introduce flavor, aroma, and bitterness into the beer, they were the main type of beer during the 12th to 14th centuries when the use of hops was not yet being considered, and they have a distinctive and characteristic flavor profile, different from what we would expect to find in a beer today.

How does the beer taste without hops?

Beers without hops do not have a taste similar to those that do. In fact, the range of herbs used can give rise to completely different flavors that are difficult to predict. The flavor and aroma that GRUIT introduces into the beer can vary a lot depending on the combination, with a subtle touch of bitterness being quite common since many of the herbs could add that, but again, in a subtle way.

Although I just mentioned that GRUIT beers have a subtle bitterness to them, it’s nothing when compared to more hoppy beers, like IPA’s, and if you’re used to that level of bitterness, then you may find GRUIT beer to be quite sweet.

Why do we add hops to beer?

Hops are added to beer with the intention of introducing bitterness, in an attempt to counteract the sweetness coming from the malt, as well as to impart the characteristic flavor and aroma of hops into the beer.

It is also added to improve the beer’s stability over time since hops have a bacteriostatic effect, thus allowing the beer to keep for longer.

Are there any health benefits of hops?

Hops are a source of antioxidants which, in addition to being components that help the stability of the beer, may also benefit us as consumers.

Antioxidants are substances that prevent cellular aging, as well as cardiovascular diseases, chronic illnesses, etc. See? not only WINE has antioxidants. Unpasteurized craft beers also contain Probiotics which, in this case, yeast, promote intestinal microflora growth, thus improving the development of the immune system.

What can I substitute hops with?

The process of substituting hops involves incorporating herbs at different times during the boil, just like hops are added at different times in the brewing process depending on the profile we are going for, and of course, the brewing of GRUIT beers requires the addition of herbs at specific times.

Bittering herbs include Horehound, Dandelion, St. Peter’s Wort, Nettle, Gentian, Clary Sage, Betonin, as well as some others, which are usually added at the beginning of the boil.

Flavor herbs include Juniper, Pine, Borage, Rosemary, Ginger, Oregano, Mint, Bergamot, Thyme, Lemon balm, and, unlike hops, they have a strong flavor and should be added near the beginning of the boil.

Aroma herbs include Elderberry, Rosemary, Lavender, Chamomile, as well as others, and these are all herbs that can be used to give your beer an aromatic profile just as you would do with hops. Generally speaking, when trying to add aroma to a beer it’s best to add the herbs, and this also applies to the hops, after the boil, or even dry hop.

Note: Always be cautious with herbs and gradually increase the amounts since some can be very invasive.

What types of hops are there and what styles are they used for?

Currently, there are a vast number of hops that can be incorporated into beer. While it’s not that easy to classify them all, you could do it by origin, bitterness, flavor or aroma.

The profile they give us in the final beer depends a lot on when they are incorporated and on their nature. Hops added at the beginning of the boil will generate more bitterness, because there is more time for the isomerization of alpha acids. Hops added in the middle and in the final minutes will give more hop flavor and aroma.

Hops provide different nuances of flavor and aroma, not just one, but a range that goes from citrus and tropical, to herbal and spicy.

On the one hand, we have hops that predominate in citric notes (Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Ekuanot, Amarillo, Sorachi Ace, etc.) but we also have hops that contribute tropical and fruity notes (such as Simcoe, Sabro, etc.). We also have hops that contribute spicy and herbal notes (such as Hallerthuer, Tettnager, Saaz, etc.) to name a few.

If IPA beers are to be brewed, it is recommended to use hops that give a pronounced hop profile, providing bitterness, flavor and aroma, and these should be added during the boil, after, and dry-hopping is also important.

If you want to brew a Blonde ale, then look for hops with less alpha-acid content, whereas for Scottch and Scottish beers it is recommended to use hops that impart a spicy and peppery profile to the final beer.

Nowadays, the addition of hops is often done towards the end of the boil with the purpose of making beers with less bitterness and with more emphasis on flavor and aroma, but this certainly depends on the style of the beer.


Although currently, hoppy beers are practically hegemonic, the idea of brewing craft beer without hops is gaining a bit more momentum. Perhaps it has to do with brewers wanting to try new styles and flavors instead of constantly producing the same one, or maybe it’s just out of curiosity.

A date has been set as international GRUIT day, the first of February of each year, with the idea of encouraging the production of these beers.

If what you are looking for is creativity and to generate new flavors, then by all means, give GRUIT beers a try!

Frequently Asked Questions

What can be used instead of hops? You can use bittering herbs, flavor herbs and aroma herbs. The ideal combination would be to achieve a balanced drink between the bitterness coming from the GRUIT and the sweetness of the malt.

Do all beers have hops? Although hoppy beers are widely predominant, since the 1990s some breweries have started to brew beers without them, which are called GRUIT beers. Mixed beers are beginning to be observed as well, with the addition of hops and GRUIT simultaneously.

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